Lindsay Lohan makes more headlines. Miley Cyrus gets caught in more embarrassing visuals. Taylor Swift has more ex-boyfriends to write songs about. But no young pop star has had a tougher time than Demi Lovato.
The Disney-bred sensation quit the Jonas Brothers tour in 2010 to go to rehab and later explained all in TV interviews -- dealing with bulimia, cutting, drinking, drugging and bipolar disorder. Now, Lovato is back on tour and about to join TV's "The X Factor" as a judge along side Britney Spears, Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid. Could a 20-year-old ask for more challenges?
Lovato's crowd gets her. At least the 5,567 fans who showed up Tuesday at the State Fair grandstand. They painted song titles on their T-shirts, carried handmade signs (including "lesbians for Lovato") and screamed at the top of their lungs.
They arrived already understanding the messages. "The song 'Skyscraper' told everybody 'I'm sorry for the mistakes I made. Come take a stand with me,'" said Dani Dahlseid, 11, of Robbinsdale, who has a lyric from "Skyscraper" as her cellphone wallpaper. "If you're having a bad day, just stand tall."
Late in her 75-minute set, Lovato sat at the piano and delivered her message loud and clear. "I went away for a while and when I came back I decided, 'I'm going to be the role model you need,'" said the singer/actress who officially ended her teen years last week. "I know some of you are suffering from eating disorder, self-harm, bullying, addiction. I'm living proof you can get through it."
Then she sang "Skyscraper" like it was an anthem for troubled youth, her passionate voice soaring as high as the post-show fireworks and showing none of the strain heard on her 2011 album "Unbroken."
A big voice is part of Lovato's gift. It's the thing that enabled her to vault from "Barney & Friends" at age 7, movie roles on the Disney Channel at 14 and her own series ("Sonny with a Chance") to a simultaneous recording career. In her 2009 concert at Target Center, Lovato came across as the most talented music star in Disney's world. But while she was fresh, spontaneous and sweaty back then, on Tuesday she came on all stagey like she was auditioning for a Whitesnake video -- a China doll face swinging her newly blonde hair, strutting in spandex pants and screaming like a banshee.
But once Lovato stopped over-emoting, she found her comfort zone, putting an ache in her voice in "Fix a Heart" and finding a deeper range and deeper meaning on Miranda Lambert's country smash "The House That Built Me." That number and a cover of Chris Brown's "Turn Up the Music" finally found her performing without thinking about it. She owned that stage and that song. She showed that X factor that the Disney poobahs spotted.
Opening was Hot Chelle Rae, a quartet of cute, skinny Nashville boys. The sons of music biz pros, HCR spiked their hits with humor a la the Barenaked Ladies, tossing in a bit of rap but always keeping the choruses top-40 catchy. In a savvy role reversal, they covered Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and cleverly mashed up Taylor Swift's brand new "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" into their own "Whatever."
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